Political missteps by President Obama are unnerving Democrats just two weeks before the midterm elections.
The GOP could hardly contain its glee at what it viewed as Obama’s latest mistake: his comments that voters should support red-state Democrats who “vote with me” and “have supported my agenda in Congress.”
While the remarks on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show were intended to move black voters to the polls, they bolstered GOP attacks that a vote for Michelle Nunn in Georgia or Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorBottom line Everybody wants Joe Manchin Cotton glides to reelection in Arkansas MORE in Arkansas is essentially a vote for Obama.
“Democrats running in the midterms have continually tried to distance themselves from Obama to no avail,” noted Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski, who said Democratic candidates should “be straight with voters about their relationship with Obama.”
The Sharpton comments were just the latest in a series of fumbles by Obama that has fueled Democratic worries the party will lose control of the Senate in the midterms.
Obama twice in October has tied red-state Democrats to his policies, and has stumbled with other public comments that have distracted from Democrats’ midterm messaging, such as when he said the administration didn’t “have a strategy yet” for targeting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Monday’s remarks were similar in tone to his Oct. 2 comments at Northwestern University that his policies “were on the ballot.”
“Every single one of them,” Obama said at the time in remarks repeated verbatim by Republican candidates across the country — and which former adviser David Axelrod quickly dubbed a mistake.
“It can’t really help us,” one former senior administration official said of the comments.
“The president has always prided himself on getting things just right,” the former official said. “And I think he still does. But the gaffes, however small, can be a problem especially at a time when we don’t need it. We need all the help we can get.”
Several Democrats spun the latest comments as a relatively minor problem, saying the election is already a referendum on Obama and that there is little candidates can do to change it.
They argued it is good that the president is doing what he can to bring black voters to the polls, which could help the party in states like Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana.
While Obama’s low approval ratings make him an easy target for Democrats to blame, the president has also done what he can to help his party in the cycle.
He’s raised millions of dollars for Democrats, and has held more fundraisers in this cycle than did former President George W. Bush, who at the time was seen as a prodigious fundraiser.
The White House has also sought to bolster Democrats by putting off executive action on immigration reform — at the expense of irritating Hispanics — and tabling an announcement of Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderChristie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group Democrats look to state courts as redistricting battle heats up On The Trail: Census kicks off a wild redistricting cycle MORE’s replacement.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest at one point in his press briefing on Tuesday sought to shift some responsibility for the midterms to Democratic candidates — and to remind reporters that when Obama was on the ballot in 2012, he won.
He conceded that Obama would get “at least his fair share of the blame” if Democrats lose the Senate, but said the candidates were ultimately responsible for how things turn out.
“The success of many of these Democratic candidates will depend on their own success in motivating voters that strongly supported the president in 2012,” Earnest said.
“Ultimately, those Democratic candidates will have to develop their own strategies in their states for figuring out how exactly to do that,” he continued. “And there are people running in red states that have a strong track record. ... So it should be their decision. It’s ultimately their campaign; it’s their name that’s on the ballot.”
Obama has acknowledged some mistakes over the past year, such as his vacation-time decision to go to a Martha’s Vineyard golf course after making a public statement on ISIS’s killing of an American journalist.
“There’s no doubt that after, having talked to the families, where it was hard for me to hold back tears listening to the pain that they were going through after the statement that I made, that I should’ve anticipated the optics,” Obama conceded later about his golf game.
Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Justice Breyer issues warning on remaking Supreme Court: 'What goes around comes around' MORE (D-Nev.), said the White House handling of Ebola and ISIS has been more damaging than his comments tying Democrats to his policies.
“I have a bigger problem with how they’ve handled the Ebola situations or some of the other issues in the past than this one,” Manley said.
He joined other Democrats in arguing that the most recent comments to Sharpton could even help Obama’s party if they rally Democratic base voters to the polls.
Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis said the president’s dilemma is that he’s walking a “political tight rope” of trying to motivate the base without hurting his party with other voters.
There’s certainly a risk of underlining GOP arguments that the election is about Obama. “But the alternative is making the Democrats in their home states think that they’re a pariah,” Manley said. “Maybe he could have been a little more artful in his language, but it is what it is.”
Amie Parnes contributed.